Even with fewer touches and a surgically repaired back that still inhibits his movement, Dwight Howard has continuously reminded himself of one thing.
Don’t let those variables impede your ability to impact the game. Find another way. Maintain strong defense. Provide energy. Make a concerted effort to establish a stronger post presence.
In the Lakers’ 122-103 victory Friday over the Denver Nuggets, Howard proved those reminders serve more as just words. His 28 points on 12 of 16 shooting and season-high 20 rebounds featured renewed energy. His 16 first-quarter points both set the tone in the team’s intensity and forced defenses to collapse on him early, allowing the Lakers more room to tie an a franchise record in three-pointers made in a game (17). Howard’s three-pointer in the corner just before the buzzer sounded also clinched that very record.
“Tonight was great as far as my explosiveness. I was quicker getting up and down. I just have to keep it up,” Howard said. “Games are going to be different. I can’t be upset if there’s a game I can’t get off the ground like I want to. I have to find ways to do everything else and play through it and the biggest thing is to have fun.”
Howard hadn’t always mastered that challenge.
He posted single digit efforts last week against Sacramento and Memphis because he didn’t overcome his fatigue. Howard also appeared frustrated when he absorbed physical contact without any whistles.
But that didn’t happen against Denver. Howard suffered a laceration on his left eyelid in the second quarter after Denver guard Andre Miller scraped it while going for the ball. Because the wound couldn’t be closed with sutures, Howard received medication in the locker room to stop the bleeding. Howard then returned to the game just before halftime.
“He didn’t mean to do it,” Howard said. “He was just going for the ball. He scraped the top of it. It stings a little bit, but I’m glad he didn’t get into my eye. That would’ve hurt. That would’ve set me down for a while so I thank God about that.”
Howard kept his spirits up despite the injury. After throwing down a one-handed alley-opp dunk off Pau Gasol’s lob early in the third quarter, Howard amused the 18,997 fans at Staples Center and his teammates by staring in awe at his right hand. With reserve shooting guard Jodie Meeks scoring 21 points on seven of eight shooting from three-point range, Howard repeatedly stood up from the bench and counted with his hands the number of outside shots Meeks made. Howard also played a large part in the Lakers outrebounding the Nuggets, 46-38, and limiting Kosta Koufous (zero offensive rebounds) and Kenneth Faried (one offensive board).
“Dwight will be a more consistent inside basis,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He should be that every night. We need to jump start that every day. He had a bunch of energy. He just played. He played well and we got him the ball better. The floor is a little more open. He was good, very good.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org